New York

12 September 2019

Secretary-General's Press Encounter on the Launching of the United Nations Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites

Good morning. 
Today we are launching an important new effort to tackle hate and violence around the globe. 
It is called the United Nations Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites.
We are doing so for a reason that is both deeply unfortunate and absolutely necessary. 
Our world is plagued with a surge in anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, attacks against Christians, and other religious groups.  
In recent months alone, Jews have been murdered in synagogues, Muslims gunned down in mosques, Christians killed at prayer.
I once again condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms. 
Religious sites should be places of worship, not places of war. 
In the wake of the Christchurch mosque massacre, I went to the Islamic Centre here in New York and made a global call to reaffirm the sanctity of all places of worship and the safety of all worshippers.
I then asked the High Representative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, Miguel Moratinos, to develop an Action Plan for the UN to be fully engaged in support of safeguarding religious sites. 
Since then, he and his team have been reaching out far and wide – to governments and religious leaders, to faith-based organizations and civil society, to young people, to traditional and social media, the private sector and beyond.  
The Plan of Action is the product of that work.
It is rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and grounded in a core understanding:  religious sites are powerful symbols of our collective consciousness.
When they are attacked, so, too, are the very pillars of society.
The Plan offers concrete recommendations to support countries in promoting safety of holy sites, ensuring that worshipers can observe their rituals in peace, and fostering the values of compassion and tolerance.
Unfortunately, religious sites have increasingly been targeted in situations of armed conflict. 
Let me emphasize that buildings dedicated to religion are specifically protected by international humanitarian law, and intentionally attacking them could be a war crime.
Beyond the targeting of religious sites, loathsome rhetoric is also spreading like wildfire. 

This includes hate speech targeting not only religious groups but also migrants, minorities and refugees; assertions of white supremacy; a resurgence of neo-Nazi ideology; venom directed at anyone considered the so-called “other”.

When people are attacked because of their religion or beliefs, we are all diminished. 
When political figures add fuel to the wildfire, we are all threatened. 
This is why the Plan of Action we release today is complemented by the Strategy on Hate Speech that we launched in June.

Taken together, these plans provide mutually reinforcing new tools to combat intolerance and promote peaceful coexistence. 
People everywhere must be allowed to observe and practice their faiths in peace.
With this Plan of Action, the United Nations is taking an important step to advance that fundamental goal.
Hatred is a threat to everyone – and so this must be a job for everyone.
The world must step up to stamp out anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, persecution of Christians and all other forms of racism, xenophobia, discrimination and incitement. 

Thank you.  

Spokesman:  Edie?
Question:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary‑General. Edith Lederer from the Associated Press.  We all know that climate change is going to be one of the biggest issues at the UN General Assembly gathering, starting very soon. One of the other big issues that we will all be watching is the possibility of any kind of meetings and talks between the leaders of the United States and Iran. How important is this for world peace? And what are you doing and the United States doing to possibly help facilitate this?
Secretary-General:  Well, first of all, in relation to climate change, I will be flying tomorrow to the Bahamas in order to express my deep solidarity to the people of the Bahamas that was victim, as you know, of a terrible hurricane just a few days ago.
Now, in relation to the possibility of an encounter between the President of the United States and Iran, I have no particular insight in relation to that. What we have been saying time and time again is that it is absolutely essential to avoid any escalation of the situation in the Gulf and that the world cannot live with a major confrontation in the Gulf. So, any effort that might be made in order to avoid it will always be welcome.
Spokesman:  Pam?
Question:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary‑General. It's Pamela Falk from CBS News.  To further ask on climate, what is the support that you are receiving from emissions-contributing… the major emission‑contributing countries? And what do you expect to do in the Bahamas that will discuss climate change or resilience for island countries? Thank you.
Secretary-General:  Well, first of all, we have invited Member States [that] come to the Climate Summit to commit themselves to an increased ambition in relation to the objectives that were defined during the pledges made in Paris.  I think we have now the best available science saying that we should limit temperature growths during this century to 1.5 degrees Celsius and, to achieve that, we need to have carbon neutrality in 2050, and we need to have a very meaningful reduction of carbon emissions in 2030.  So, my appeal is for the largest possible number of countries to be able to commit during this summit not only to carbon neutrality as soon as possible but also to review with much more ambition the so‑called National Determined Contributions, the pledges made in Paris, in order to reduce emissions or to improve adaptation.  And, at the same time, I hope that this summit will allow us to have a stronger commitment of the developed world in relation to supporting the developing world in both mitigation and adaptation.  I'm very grateful to a number of countries that have already announced doubling their contributions to the Green Climate Fund, and I hope that this summit will be the occasion for that to be enhanced.
Question:  [Off mic] And on the Bahamas?
Secretary-General:  In relation to the Bahamas, obviously, there is an objective of solidarity with the people that have suffered enormously, and there is an objective of raising awareness to the international community to increase the support to the Bahamas people and to the Bahamas Government in the present situation.  And, at the same time, I think it is a clear illustration if we add the Bahamas to what has happened in Mozambique, to the drought in the Sahel, to the fires in the Amazon or in the Arctic, to the melting of glaciers, to the bleaching of corals, I think all this is a demonstration of what we have been saying in the recent past:  Climate change is running faster than we are, and we need to have a much more ambitious approach in what we do in order to defeat climate change.
Spokesman:  James?
Question:  Question on refugees, Secretary‑General. The US Supreme Court has temporarily backed the [Donald] Trump Administration in stopping people coming in from Central America. This comes as the Trump Administration is also limiting people coming from where you're going, from the Bahamas, coming into the US. Your reaction?
Secretary-General:  Well, as you know, in the United Nations, the authority in refugees is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I was United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for ten years. And it happens that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees already pronounced himself today on that. I want to say that I fully support the pronouncement of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Spokesman:  Thanks. Maggie?
Question:  Secretary‑General, Margaret Besheer, Voice of America. On the new initiative you just announced, you talk about protecting… safeguarding religious sites but worshippers, as well. So, what is your specific message, then, to China on the state of the Uyghurs?
Secretary-General:  My specific message to all countries in the world is that religious freedom needs to be respected in all circumstances and that, in the context of religious freedom being fully respected, all religious sites must be protected.
Spokesman:  Maria?  Last question.
Question:  Thank you. Secretary‑General, you are talking about protection of refugees, but all… I think about protection of all civilians and the investigation you started in Idlib was about it, I suppose…
Secretary-General:  Sorry?
Question:  The question is about investigation committed in Idlib, in Syrian Idlib, for protecting all civilians there. So, how soon do you expect this committee to start its work?
Secretary-General:  The Board of Inquiry will be announced very, very soon. I hope it will be this week.
Spokesman:  Thank you very much. Thank you.
Secretary-General:  Thank you very much.